Feature Article

Michael Jackson: The King of Pop

By Melissa Minners


            As it goes with many famous people who pass away unexpectedly, years from now people will be asking, “Where were you when you heard Michael Jackson had passed away?”  Well, I was driving home from work, listening to 1010WINS news radio when I heard that Michael Jackson had been taken out of his home in cardiac arrest and transported via ambulance to UCLA Medical Center.  I had the feeling right then and there that he was gone.  They say that deaths in Hollywood usually come in threes and we had lost Ed McMahon earlier in the week and Farrah Fawcett only a few hours ago.

            In recent years, Michael Jackson had been the focus of much drama.  A child star who was forced to grow up way too quickly, Jackson seemed to have a great deal of trouble adapting to adult life, preferring the innocence of childhood, climbing trees, screening films in his home theater, living in a virtual zoo at his home appropriately titled Neverland after the Peter Pan fairytale.  But his recent troubles of late involved incidents that could be labeled anything but innocent - child endangerment, allegations of molestation, plastic surgery after plastic surgery.  And, unfortunately, his eccentricity, possibly fueled by psychological issues and trauma in his childhood, overshadowed all of Michael Jackson’s achievements.

            Although it is rather impossible to ignore the drama in the later period of Michael Jackson’s life, I prefer to remember him for the impression he left on me in the earlier portion of his life.  As a child, I grew up listening to the music of the Jackson 5 thanks to my father’s affinity for 101.1 WCBS - what we have always termed as the oldies station, although now that they are playing songs from my generation, I would refrain from calling it that.  Back then, they even had a cartoon featuring animated versions of the Jackson 5, filled with music and lighthearted fare.

            Eventually, Michael left the fold and went solo and I was there for that, too.  I was in junior high school when Thriller first hit the music stands.  I remember rushing to the local Woolworth, back when the store had a register in every department, and heading straight for the music department.  I searched through countless albums (yes, vinyl was still all the rage back then) until I found the last Thriller album on the rack.  As I brought the album to the register, I could see a look of supreme sadness come over the face of the register girl.  You see, she had been hiding the album, hoping to purchase it herself.

            Videos were big back then and I must have watched videos for Beat It, Billie Jean and The Girl is Mine countless times.  But the video I wanted to see was for the title track - Thriller.  The longest music video to date at 14 minutes in length, Thriller had only been broadcast on MTV at the time.  Everyone was talking about it.  Unfortunately, it seemed like I was the only person in the world who didn’t have cable access.  It wasn’t until I was invited to a graduation party, at a now-defunct club called Fudgies, that I was finally able to see the music video in its entirety.  Happily, it was shown four times.  The first time it was shown on the big screen hanging over the dance floor, we all stopped to watch, mesmerized by what we saw.  The final bouts of laughter by Vincent Price were met by the cheers and applause of some rather rowdy  teenagers.  We danced along with the rest of the showings, trying to emulate the moves of human Jackson as well as his zombie counterpart.

            Of course, the Thriller album wasn’t the only Michael Jackson hit I enjoyed, but it was the one that contained the most hits - seven in all.  I loved that album and always will. 

            At that time - the 1980s - it seemed that Michael Jackson could do no wrong.  His music was powerful and captivating.  The lyrics of his songs told stories.  They were catchy and easily learned.  They invited you to dance and sing along.  His follow up to Thriller was called Bad and just about everyone knew the words to the title track by heart.  Also featured on this album were the hits The Way You Make Me Feel, Smooth Criminal and Man in the Mirror.

            This was followed up by the album Dangerous.  True Michael Jackson fans loved it, but there were some who weren’t too fond of the sound.  As for me, I felt that two songs stood out on this album - Remember the Time and Black or White.  King of the music video, Michael Jackson did not disappoint with the video for Black or White, using this opportunity to get his lyrical message across with visual aids.  Who doesn’t remember the morphing sequences in this video and the poignantly important message it conveyed?

            Then it seemed that Michael Jackson’s musical talents had begun to be overshadowed by his eccentric lifestyle.  But he still managed to wow us with hits like the duet with Janet Jackson entitled Scream and the ballad You Are Not Alone.  It seemed that my enthusiasm for Michael’s music had begun to fade at this point, but there was no denying his talent or the fact that every time one of his songs came on the radio, I was singing along.

            Despite the drama surrounding Michael Jackson, one can never forget the impact he had on the music industry, inspiring many young talents to follow in his footsteps.  He began his music legacy at the age of 11 and grew to superstardom by the age of 22.  Many current artists can attest to the influence Michael Jackson has had on the music industry.  Musically, lyrically and visually (through his dance performances and music videos), Michael Jackson was a pop icon and will live on as a legend in the works he left us before his untimely death on June 25, 2009 at the age of fifty. 


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